Khalil by Yasmina Khadra was an extremely troubling, dark, and reflective story about a torn man headed towards a path of no return. Khadra explores what motivates an individual to carry out acts of terrorism and also how the most vulnerable are recruited by extremists.
Yasmina doesn’t hold back and instantly begins the story with Khalil, a young Belgium lad making his way to the Stade De France along with three other suicide bombers. One of them is his best friend Driss who he has known since a child. The attack goes ahead but Khalil survives as his vest malfunctions leading to him to go into hiding. Khalil frantically tries to understand what happened and reflect on how he reached this point in his life.
One of the main things that Yasmina attempts to do is put you into the mind of a terrorist. Khalil reflects on his life and what made him become a terrorist. We see that Khalil has pity for his life and the fact that he didn’t amount to anything. The worst thing is when Khalil and Driss are on their way to the Stade De France Stadium, Khalil says this is the first time in his life that he is doing something that is important.
Many times throughout the story he feels disgusted by how poor him and his family are. He also has a difficult relationship with his father who constantly insults his son for not amounting to anything. Khalil is even angry at his mother for staying with their father just to provide him multiple children.
Essentially, Yasmina Khadra is drawing up the factors that lead to individuals being targeted and drawn to radicalisation. These being individuals from a disconnected family i.e. Khalil’s strained relationship with his father, those who haven’t finished school (Khalil dropped out along with Driss), and individuals who can’t seem to get their career up and running.
Khalil also meets many so called “brothers” such as Imam Sadek and Lyes who entice him into making Khalil believe that carrying out acts of terrorism will allow him to regain a feeling of self worth and fufilment. Khalil in my eyes is extremely selfish and is just the eptimome “self pity”. Rather than fix his broken relationships and change his life around, he chooses to complain about the situation and not fix things with his family.
“How do these pseudo-imams manage to persuade young men to relinquish their dreams, their joys, their wives and children?”
He doesn’t realise there are those who love him and care for him deeply. Those being his twin sister Zahra and another childhood friend Rayan. Zahra is the shining light in Khalil’s life and he loves his sister like no other.
“My twin sister was all that remained to me on earth. I adored her, and she felt the same about me. We were so intensely close that she could detect the least of my worries.”
Rayan is totally different to his childhood friends Khalil and Driss. Unlike Driss and Khalil who dropped out of school, Rayan kept his head down and worked hard allowing him to gain a fantastic job and career. Khalil tells us that his father never even glanced at his report cards and how he was doing in school. Where as Rayan’s mother was extremely focuses on getting her son out of the slums and on to the pass of success. When Rayan finds out about Khalil being part of the heinous act of terrorism, he tries to make Khalil realise that there is so much in this world to love rather than hate and ridicule.
“There’s nothing more precious than life, and no one has the right to lay a finger on it”
When considering the writing, it’s incredibly fast paced and very thought provoking. Khadra’s writing style makes you want to sit attentively and listen to what’s being said. Yasmina puts you deep into the shoes of Khalil and his radicalisation. We see why Khalil joins a terrorist organisation, how he is manipulated, and how he reflects on the events that take place. The story aims to show the ripple effect of the pain and hurt that occurs as a result of acts of terrorism.
What I’ve learned from reading this story is that there are those evil scumbags who see people like Khalil who haven’t amounted to anything or are fed up with their lives as a way of carrying out their own evilness. As a Muslim myself I truly believe that those who carry out such atrocities in the name of Islam aren’t Muslims. In Islam and within the Qur’an it is written that if someone kills merely one human being, it’s as if they have killed all humanity. It infuriates me that there are people who use Islam to carry out their own evil agendas. This is something that Yasmina highlights many times throughout the novel.
It’s a small majority of people who carry out such horrible acts yet it’s these acts that gives those Muslims who live normal lives and no nothing but peace and harmony a bad name. This is something that is highlighted when Khalil is in a takeaway, there are customers discussing the incident that occured and one points out that they are highly qualified with a university degree yet because of the terrorist acts that have occured in recent years he is discriminated against for having a Muslim name. Many Muslims throughout the world have faced islamophobia in recent years. I myself have faced abuse by others just because I’m Muslim.
Another thing I must mention however is that I am so fed up of stories that constantly depict Muslims as terrorists. I understand that this is very much an anti radicalisation novel, but why must this topic always focus on Muslims? We are seeing the increasing rise of white supremacy yet I haven’t seen much mainstream fiction focusing on this.
I’ve also heard that this is the third book in which Yasmina Khadra has focused on a novel where a Muslim character is a terrorist? Who am I to tell another person what to do but maybe it’s time to move on from this narrative. Maybe focus on those Muslims who are normal people, working normal jobs, falling in love, doing fantastic things with their lives, and are doing good for the community. This is just my opinion.
Overall, this was a very well written story that highlights how radicalisation occurs and those who may be seen as prime targets. It was very thought provoking as Yasmina really puts you into the mind of someone who has been radicalised and draws out the question that if a person is headed towards the path of no return is it possible to turn around? Yasmina Khadra also writes in a very reflective manner that really grabs you and makes you think deeply. It was a very heavy read for me and after finished reading the novel I was very much lost for words.
Thank you Doubleday for #gifting me a copy. I am very grateful to have been given the chance to review this novel and share my thoughts. The book releases on the 16th of February